Topic(s): Genocide | Comments Off on Rene — US MUST ATONE FOR AIDING SUHARTO

On the subject of public and political acts of atonement -rg
by Joseph Nevins
Newsday February 3, 2008 New York
The death of Suharto, the strongman who ruled Indonesia for more
than three decades, is cause for reflection in the United States,
particularly as Americans choose our next president and wrestle with
the question of our nation’s proper role in the world.
Countless atrocities marked Suharto’s rule, and his legacy scars
Indonesia’s politics as well as the social fabric of neighboring East
Timor, which his regime violently annexed. But the United States backed
those crimes and, like Indonesia, has never taken responsibility –
which has made it that much easier for the Bush administration to
strengthen ties with the country’s brutal military under the guise
of fighting terrorism.
In late 1965, as part of a power grab from his predecessor, Sukarno,
Suharto and his army organized and carried out what the CIA described
as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.” Over
several months, they slaughtered hundreds of thousands of members
of the Indonesian Communist Party, a legal entity, and of loosely
affiliated organizations such as women’s groups and labor unions. A
decade later, Suharto’s military invaded neighboring East Timor. The
ensuing war and almost 24-year occupation cost many tens of thousands
East Timorese lives.
The U.S. embassy in Indonesia encouraged and lauded the military’s
actions in the 1965-66 killings’ early stages. It supplied radio
equipment and small arms, and gave the army thousands of names of
Communist Party members. In the case of the Dec. 7, 1975, East Timor
invasion, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
approved the aggression and the use of American weaponry while meeting
with Suharto the previous day in Jakarta. About 14 hours after they
left, Indonesian forces attacked.
Democratic and Republican administrations alike provided billions of
dollars in military weaponry and training and economic aid, as well
as diplomatic cover, to Jakarta over Suharto’s 32-year reign.
That Suharto, who a Clinton administration official characterized in
1995 as “our kind of guy,” proved so welcoming of Western investors
helps to explicate the bipartisan largesse. A State Department official
explained in early 1976, for example, why Washington was condoning
Jakarta’s illegal invasion of East Timor. Indonesia, he said, is “a
nation we do a lot of business with.” Richard Nixon once characterized
the country rich in resources ranging from oil to rubber to gold as
“the greatest prize in the South-East Asian area.”
Suharto was forced from power in May 1998. Today’s Indonesia, which
has the fourth largest population and most Muslims in the world,
is now much more open and democratic. Yet, Suharto’s legacy deforms
the society, especially in terms of the military, which still looms
large over the country’s political system. As such, there has been no
thorough investigation of, nor any accountability among, military or
political leaders for any of the countless Suharto-era massacres. This
impunity is a source of continuing worry for civil society and restless
outlying regions, as well as now-independent East Timor.
In the United States, Washington’s role in Indonesia’s killing fields
of 1965-66 is effectively forgotten. And the record of American
complicity in atrocities in East Timor has been largely ignored –
despite calls by that country’s official truth commission that the
United States apologize and pay reparations.
It’s a short leap from this history to the tendency of all too
many of our elected leaders to prefer bullying over negotiation,
cooperation and regard for established international norms. Among
the results: ongoing support for Morocco’s illegal occupation of the
Western Sahara, the disastrous invasion of Iraq and U.S. rejection
of international law – UN Security Council resolutions and the Geneva
Conventions, for example – as the basis for a just resolution of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Suharto’s death, in addition to being an opportunity for
self-reflection in the United States, is an occasion for atonement
and positive change. This should entail full accountability for
U.S. involvement in Suharto’s crimes, and a commitment to alter our
ways overseas.
Congress and the next president ought to consider these meaningful
steps as ways of reconciling with those victimized by the
U.S.-Indonesia alliance, and also contributing to a less violent,
more just world – at home and abroad.
Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at Vassar
College. He is the author of A Not-so-distant Horror: Mass Violence
in East Timor (Cornell University Press). City Lights Books will
publish his latest book, Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration
in an Age of Global Apartheid, in early 2008.